The Week that Spain Lost Catalonia

The detention of 15 high-ranking officials and the suspension of the Catalan government, last week by the Spanish government, in order to halt the referendum on independence set for tomorrow appears to have united separatists, federalists, and a significant number of unionists in defense of the vote.

“I have always been opposed to this referendum, because I am a federalist. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalonia in order to humiliate our people is intolerable. That’s the main reason why I have decided to vote, and I will vote “YES” because I do not want to belong to a dictatorship like Turkey any longer. I think that the creation of a new state would give us the chance to build a more fair country and society” said David, a Barcelona citizen.

My family and I have always voted for unionist parties. We like Spain and most of our friends are from Madrid. Nevertheless, the Spanish repression of the Catalans this week is unacceptable. The government has violated the international law and has restricted the freedom of expression in Catalonia. They have raided printing shops, newspapers offices, and forbidden Catalan editors from advertising the referendum. Last week, they suspended our government and detained a number of our democratically elected representatives. Until this week, I was not going to vote in the referendum because I have always been a unionist, but Spain does not give me any other option. I will go to vote “YES” because this is no longer a referendum on independence, it is all about “Democracy” VS “Dictatorship,” said Marta, a Barcelona businesswoman.

The Catalan government has had serious problems in mobilizing the “unionists” for this referendum until the past week. Most of them thought that they could defeat the Catalan President by promoting a boycott of the vote. However, the latest Spanish aggressions against Catalan institutions have changed the situation, and it appears now that the vast majority of unionists are willing to support the referendum, in order to preserve democracy. This could result in a historic turnout that cannot be ignored by the international community.

The constant attacks against Catalonia by the Spanish government have also united separatists, federalists, and several unionist political parties, which are now calling on the people for mass participation in the referendum. Additionally, they are planning a social/labor indefinite general strike starting on October 3rd, in order to collapse the Spanish economy, if Spain does not recognize the results of the vote.

Although the Catalan government has always been committed to carrying out the referendum, there has always been serious doubts about the validation of the results. However, it seems that the latest anti-democratic actions against Catalonia by Spain have already guaranteed the international recognition of the results, whatever they may be.

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1 Million People Attend a Pro-Independence Rally in Barcelona

On Monday, one million pro-independence supporters gathered in Barcelona for the National Day of Catalonia, three weeks before the key independence referendum on October 1st.

The city’s streets were flooded with hundreds of thousands of people several hours before the rally organized by the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural was set to begin. According to the organizers, up to 2000 buses from cities all over Catalonia made the journey to the capital.

The rally began at 5.14 PM with one minute’s silence held in remembrance of the victims of the Barcelona and Cambrils terror attacks. Spirits were high as the atmosphere changed from one of anticipation to eager excitement and optimism with hopes for a positive result in the coming referendum.

Four banners with messages of peace, independence and liberty were passed along by the protesters in a show of unity.

Voting has never been a crime,” President of Òmnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, addressed the crowd of thousands. “In spite of their fears and threats, we have our own laws based on international legislation. The Spanish courts no longer defend the collective interests of the Catalan people… They want to silence democracy.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and representative of the Tunisian Human Rights League Ahmed Galai was also present. A key supporter of Catalan independence, he inspired crowds with his speech stating that “referendum is democracy.” After key speeches made by organizers and pro-independence politicians, crowds began to disperse at around 7 pm.

This year, the annual pro-independence rally was more crucial than ever, since it came in the context of an all-out confrontation between the Spanish and Catalan governments. A few days before the rally was held, the international community said that a low turnout would weaken the legitimacy of the Catalan government‘s disobedience of the Spanish government and Supreme Court in holding the independence referendum set for October 1st.

Nevertheless, the spectacular turn out of 1 million people demanding that the Catalan government hold the referendum, no matter what, appears to have given the necessary legitimacy to the Catalan President to disobey the politicized Spanish Supreme Court and the Spanish government.

After Monday’s mass rally, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said this morning during an interview that he and his government will not accept a hypothetical suspension of their mandate by the Spanish Supreme Court. He added that from now on, he will only follow the Catalan legislation which stipulates that he can only be suspended by the Catalonian people. He also stressed that not only is holding a referendum on independence not illegal, but a right spelled out in the two 1966 UN Conventions on Human Rights which the Spanish Constitution recognizes as the supreme law of the land.

Last week, Catalonia’s parliament passed two crucial laws: the law of the referendum, which allows the government to hold the unilateral independence referendum in October, and the law of “transitorietat” that will only be applied if most Catalans vote in favor of the independence in the referendum. This law would serve as a new constitution until the new one is written, approved, and voted via referendum by the Catalonian people.

It is expected that the tension between the Spanish and Catalan governments will grow to limits never before seen in democracy during the days prior to the referendum. The Spanish government will try to prevent the referendum from happening by all means, but, if it is held in the end, the most important indicators for the international community to validate the results will be the turnout, the opinion of the international observers, and the transparency of the process.

Poor Media Coverage of the Barcelona Terror Attack

On Thursday, CNN, Fox News, ABC News, BBC, CBS, The Guardian, and Telecinco’ coverage of the terror attack in Barcelona, in which fourteen people died and a hundred were injured after a van plowed into crowds of tourists in Las Ramblas, appeared to be inaccurate and harmful to the victims.

CBS News, CNN, and FOX News were the first to broadcast videos of the victims bleeding to death, causing trauma for families who discovered through TV that their loved ones had died. These networks also spread falsehoods such as that there was a hostage situation in a restaurant and that numerous fugitive terrorists were carrying long-range weapons through Barcelona’s streets, which caused terror and endangered the ongoing police operation.

Sadly, the same media had already misreported previous terror attacks such as the latest in London and Manchester. This time, however, thousands of people complained about what they saw as a ratings grab. However, the aforementioned media justified their misreporting, suggesting that in the aftermath of a terror attack it is normal that witnesses give them false information because they are confused.

All of this despite the fact that the Catalonian government had enabled numerous communication lines with the press from where it was giving regular updates about the ongoing investigation and the police operation in order to prevent the media misreporting. The government asserted that the only reliable information was what they were providing through the aforementioned channels.

It is also important to highlight that part of the media did a great job by verifying all the information before broadcasting it. The lack of seriousness of some ‘prestigious’ media has as its ultimate goal to grow their audiences regardless of the veracity and the possible negative consequences that their actions may have in the aftermath of a terror attack.

This sort of coverage has raised many questions about the implementation of new restraints on the media; for example, to pixel the faces of victims of terrorism in the aftermath of terror attacks in order to respect their families and prevent these episodes from happening again.

Indeed, if implemented a new regulation should always respect the freedom of the press in all cases. This would only be to protect the victims of terrorism and their families because they deserve to be the first to know how their loved ones are without watching their mutilated bodies on TV.

 

French Election

On Sunday, France held the first round of the presidential election cum referendum on EU membership. Emmanuel Macron won the largest share of the votes with 24% of the vote, followed close behind by Marine Le Pen with 21.3%. Thus, these two candidates will now compete for the French presidency in a runoff vote on May 7.

During his first interview after the election, Macron said,

The French people have decided to put me at the top in the first round of the vote,” “I’m aware of the honor and the responsibility that rests on my shoulders.”

In contrast, Marine Le Pen said that the outcome of the election was “an act of French pride” and called on French citizens to support her in order to defeat Islamist terrorism.

On Monday, Ms. Le Pen quickly renewed her attacks on Mr. Macron calling him “weakling” for his anti-terrorism policies.

The defeated candidates also gave their opinions about the outcome of the election and called on French citizens to support Emmanuel Macron against the xenophobic Marine Le Pen in the runoff vote on May 7.

The socialist Benoît Hamon, with 6% of the votes, was the first to concede and called on his supporters to vote against Marine Le Pen.

Fillon conceded with a 40-minute speech:

“The obstacles in my path were too many and too cruel,” he said. I accept responsibility for this loss,” added Fillon, asking his constituents to remain united and determined going forward into the French parliamentary elections. The defeated leader said he had ”no choice but to vote against the extreme right.” “I will vote in favor of Emmanuel Macron,” he concluded.

Jean-Luc Melenchon refused to say who he would back, criticizing both candidates for having “no stance on the environment or the future of civilization, and who both challenge the welfare and social model of the country.” He also said that the 500,000 members of his organization, La France Insoumise, will hold a vote to decide whether to support Macron, cast a blank vote, or abstain in the runoff vote in May.

The current President, François Hollande called on French citizens to reject far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and back Macron in the runoff on May 7.

For the first time in six decades, neither of France’s main left-wing or right-wing parties had a candidate remaining in the run-off election.

The outcome of the first round of the French election portrays a terrifying scenario. French citizens will now have to choose between Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker who represents the establishment, and Marine Le Pen, a xenophobe who wants to destroy the EU and expel millions of legal resident immigrants in the name of fighting terrorism.

Macron’s victory would probably lead to the French working class losing purchasing power, which, in the short-term, will weaken the French economy. On the other hand, Le Pen’s victory would be catastrophic. She wants to hold a referendum on EU membership, and expel millions of immigrants who sustain the French economy.

According to recent polls, Emmanuel Macron will win the second round with 59% of the vote. However, experts have suggested that there is a factor which could give Le Pen the presidency: so-called Islamist terrorism.They think that a major terrorist attack in the next week in France would send a shock wave through French society, giving Le Pen a real chance of becoming president.

Paradoxically, Marine Le Pen wants to eradicate terrorism and Islamist terrorists want to assassinate her. However, they need each other to survive for the following reasons:

1- Marine Le Pen needs a terrorist attack to have any hope of victory.

2- Islamist terrorists need Le Pen to cause chaos in Europe if they want to spread their ideas and attract new militants.

While French citizens await the outcome of the runoff vote on May 7, the establishment is endorsing Emmanuel Macron in order to instate a new financial dictatorship in France if he becomes president. Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, has renounced her membership in the National Front (her political party) while being endorsed by Trump and U.S. alt-right organizations.

It is clear, then, that Neither Le Pen nor Macron will transform French society into a fairer one. Thus, the only thing that French citizens can do is organize and prepare themselves for a long battle against the unfair measures implemented by their next president.

Wilder’s Defeat and the European Union

On Wednesday, the Netherlands held the most important general election since the creation of the European Union. Most analysts suggested that, without a doubt, its results would determine the political future of the European project (including a potential dissolution).

After the rise of fascism in countries such as the UK and the US, the odds of victory for xenophobic and anti-European parties represented in the Netherlands by Geert Wilders, were higher than ever.

Over the last year, Wilders had expressed his desire to split with the European Union countless times, and the fear of that happening turned the Dutch elections into a referendum. As a result, the 13 million citizens eligible to vote had in their hands the hard task of deciding whether to remain in the EU or open a Pandora’s Box and begin its dissolution.

Months before the elections, the predictions were clearly favorable for Wilders. Most of the national polls suggested a clear victory for him, and some of them gave him 46% of the vote. On the other side, his great rival, the previous prime minister and candidate, Mark Rutte, spent most of the campaign persuading Dutch citizens that Wilders was “on the wrong side of populism.” His chances of winning were very low since most of the polls gave him catastrophic results.

However, (and fortunately for the European Union), the above-mentioned prognosis was erroneous, and despite winning 5 more seats than in the previous elections, the VPP of Wilders obtained 20 seats out of 150.

The winner of the elections was the VVD of Rutte who obtained 33 seats, 13 ahead of Wilders. Despite losing 8 seats compared to the previous elections, he declared that he was euphoric with the results. Considering that not even the most optimistic person believed in his victory, the final results were extraordinarily good.

Despite his victory, Rutte will have a hard task going forward if he wants to become the next prime minister for the third consecutive time. His victory is insufficient to form a government. For that reason, he will need to negotiate with at least three more political parties to form a coalition. Due to the complexity of the situation, it will take several months before he can form a stable government.

Dutch citizens delivered a clear message to the international community:

“We want neither bigotry nor populism in our country.”

Despite the citizens’ clear message refusing bigotry and populism, no one should forget that millions of them voted for Rutte because it was considered the best option to defeat Wilders. He represents the establishment, and as such, he will put the interests of the wealthy before those of the middle and working class.

Without a doubt, the defeat of Wilders was great news for the European Union, and this will contribute to decreasing populism in other countries. However, there is still a lot of work to do in the Netherlands to build a fair society where no one is discriminated against regardless of sexual, political, and religious orientation.

For the moment, the European Union has been able, temporarily, stall a critical threat to its existence. But unless its structure changes soon and the EU brings about equality among all its Members States, the alleged fascist’s populism will become a serious menace for the EU again.

The Truth is that the European Union has lost the appeal that it once had. The existing inequalities among member states in the EU, (notably ascendent Germany, which during the hardest moments of the global financial crisis, far from being supportive, took away benefits from the poorest countries in the Union), have contributed to the rise of populism all across Europe.

When countries such as Greece were going through catastrophic times, the German economy was in perfect condition without any signs of weakness. Later it was revealed that Germany took away vitality from countries such as Greece by demanding they pay back loans with exorbitant interest rates.

It is clear then that, without structural changes and more equality, the dissolution of the European Union will soon be inevitable.

Pending the arrival of big structural changes, the European Union will soon be tested again in upcoming elections in Germany and France. Fortunately, now that the Dutch elections are over, populism will not have many chances to win, but as I have said, structural changes must soon be done or it (populism) may increase its odds to obtain good results. 

Organizing to Resist Threats to Our Rights

Ongoing political degradation and the rise of bigoted movements in western countries such as the U.S., France, and the Netherlands represent a real threat to our democracy. Its birthplace can be found in the U.S where President Trump has launched his personal crusade against immigration, women, LGBT, and human rights. 

In addition to that, Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands could soon both follow Trump’s steps as heads of their respective governments. Both have expressed their intent to target immigration and human rights if they win the next elections. They have aslo called on the international community to unite to create an international coalition to spread their ideas worldwide. Such a coalition could be catastrophic, since it would eliminate the rights that our ancestors achieved through decades of fighting.

As a result of all of this, there is clear evidence that, in the near future, bigotry will continue increasing to levels not seen in decades. It is in this context that we cannot wait any longer to unite and organize to resist these threats. For that reason, I suggest we start working to create a new inclusive organization to lead the resistance in western countries. It would fight back against any threat to our society regardless of political orientation.

In most cases, people tend to associate resistance against xenophobia with the Democrats in the U.S and Social Democrats in Europe. Both are supposed to be left organizations which defend the working and the middle class. However, their ties with the so-called establishment backed by previous administrations invalidate them from fighting xenophobic populism.

The resistance against bigoted movements must be broad and target xenophobic leaders, but also those who are acting indecorously by helping bigots such as Trump to win elections in their countries. For that reason, it is not possible to build an effective resistance, settled with old generations of unpopular Democrats (US) and Social Democrats (EU) leaders.

The alternative must come from those who have never represented any political party, instead, it should come through a new organization, which should represent all those minority groups who have been ignored in western countries for decades. It should come from below. Yet it is crucial that we know what this broad movement is for, as well as what it is against.

Under the existing context, a generation of true right defenders are leaving traditional political parties such as Democrats in the U.S., and Socialist Parties all across Europe. They are engaged in a process which causes divisions in their parties and finally, are forced to leave if they want to keep their convictions up. Unfortunately, after they leave their political parties, these brilliant minds feel betrayed and do not want to join any other project since they all seem very similar to each other.

Further, in just a few months, thousands of citizens from all over western countries have started to become interested in politics since they understand that it really impacts in their lives somehow. They are very energetic and want to protect their rights, but they have never participated in any political organization or movement, and they do not know how to do it.

For that reason, we need to start working to create a new inclusive organization to attract either, the millions of citizens from the working and middle classes who are interested in organizing a resistance, and those disenchanted brilliant minds who already left traditional political parties.

During the creation of this organization, there should be intense debate about who is allowed to take leadership positions. In my opinion, if this organization wants to repair the damage that has been caused by traditional political parties during decades, it should limit the participation of those who have ever had positions in other political parties or who have represented them. However, since this platform needs to be inclusive, I think it should discuss with them so we can learn how to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

As mentioned, there will soon be many challenges to confront, and unless we are ready, we will lose our freedoms. So let’s organize and resist these threats. Your contribution could determine the future of our global democracy and liberties. To that end, I am calling on you to share this as many times as you can with your contacts to begin an important discussion about the creation of such an organization.

If you are interested in this project contact me at: josepgoded@riseup.net